How to Work When You’re Working From Home - Ian Jackson (Podcast Special Episode)
With the advent of the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, many workers find themselves suddenly working from home. If that's you, you're probably facing a lot of new questions. Like, "How do I set a schedule for myself? How do I feel productive when productivity isn't necessarily pegged to a certain number of hours in the office? How do I keep from going stir crazy? And if you have kids at home, how do you do any of this and make it work?"
Ian Jackson, is an expert in thinking outside the box, regarding organizational behavior. He's made his career facilitating team building and leadership training programs for the last decade at Harvard's Division of Continuing Education. And he just recently started working from home himself, earlier than the rest of us did. Ian Jackson is the Principal of Building Bridges Leadership where he teaches on topics such as managing remote teams, and you can find his work at buildingbridgesleadership.com.
2 Corinthians 1:1-23
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God that is in Corinth, including all the saints throughout Achaia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation. We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again, as you also join in helping us by your prayers, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult
Although Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he continued to go to his house, which had windows in its upper room open toward Jerusalem, and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.
Additional Resources Referenced
Building Bridges Leadership, Ian Jackson,Founder, Facilitator and Consultant
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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.
Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work
LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.
MR: I’m Mark Roberts
LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.
With the advent of the COVID-19 worldwide pandemic, many workers find themselves suddenly working from home. If that's you, you're probably facing a lot of new questions. Like, "How do I set a schedule for myself? How do I feel productive when productivity isn't necessarily pegged to a certain number of hours in the office? How do I keep from going stir crazy? And if you have kids at home, 'cause many schools are canceled, how do you do any of this and make it work?"
Our guest today, Ian Jackson, is an expert in thinking outside the box, regarding organizational behavior. He's made his career facilitating team building and leadership training programs for the last decade at Harvard's Division of Continuing Education. And he just recently started working from home himself, earlier than the rest of us did. Ian Jackson is the Principal of Building Bridges Leadership where he teaches on topics such as managing remote teams, and you can find his work at buildingbridgesleadership.com. Ian Jackson, welcome to the Making It Work Podcast.
Ian Jackson: Thank you for inviting me. I'm so glad to be here.
LA: I'm so glad you're here 'cause I personally was displaced from my office...
LA: Over the past few days, like so many Americans were and so many people all over the world. Last week, I was working in an office, this week, I'm not. And so this week has had all of these new firsts. Like new first staff meeting where everybody is only online and so there are all these firsts that we're struck with in this crisis. And then there are also these bigger questions of, how do you make your own work work? And how does an organization make work happen when a majority of people are working from home? So just give us the big picture from an organizational point of view. What are the challenges of having a staff that's working from home?
IJ: Sure. Well, I think I'll start off by saying that many organizations, based on what they do, don't have the capacity to work from home even now. So particularly, those in the medical and emergency services, obviously, but also those in retail, utility services, delivery services, and so on. And they're the ones that the rest of us are relying on right now to keep things moving so that we are able to work from home. So I just want to acknowledge that, and make sure that I'm not assuming that what I say applies to everyone in every organization because it clearly just doesn't.
IJ: So that said, I think every organization has goals, targets, projects, deliverables, things that have deadlines and clearly measurable results. When everyone is working together in one place, it seems like progress is easier to track, to control. So for organizations who have a culture of shared workspaces or have regular in-person meetings to check in on projects, it can seem daunting and overwhelming to suddenly have such a major cultural shift imposed on them by something like this, by COVID-19. But if you've been in the work world for a long time, you'll have noticed that there's been a massive shift already away from personal meetings. More and more things are handled by email and increasingly by instant messaging and workflow tools like Slack or Basecamp. So workplaces are actually set up for working from home in a way that just would not have been remotely possible even 20 years ago. And communication and transparency, I think are the key tools here. So one of the online workshops I run is on team-building activities for in-person and remote teams.
And in those workshops, I refer to Patrick Lencioni's book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which is a classic text in the business publishing world. And that book suggests that the biggest dysfunction that underlies all the others in a team is the absence of trust between team members and/or managers. So if that absence of trust is there in an organization, the prospect of people working from home seems scary. But if trust has been built up, managers trust that their team will be able to work effectively from home. So, if teams are communicating with each other with the same regularity as they would be in the office, even if the form of communication is different, I think that trust will continue to grow. So, a quick plug here, to help teams work on communication while working remotely, I recently posted some free team-building activities for remote teams to use on my website, buildingbridgesleadership.com.
LA: And I think, Ian, workplaces are gonna need them. I have been floored this week. What I'm hearing from so many friends who work in different industries is a realization of the lack of trust that has grown up between managers and workers.
LA: What I've been hearing in the past few days, is folks saying... All of a sudden they're working from home and their boss is saying, "How can I check up on you? We need to have daily meetings. I need to make sure I know what you're doing."
IJ: Absolutely, I think managers, if they don't feel that level of trust there, the tendency is to micromanage. And that can feel scary or uncomfortable or adds a lot of stress to your workday. So I think a tip on that that I've used myself in another situation where I had a manager whose tendency was towards micro-managing, would be to go out of my way to communicate more than I think I need to, and to give updates on things that I'm not being asked for just as a way to keep one step ahead.
So, I also wanted to say, though, that I think working from home in the current situation, obviously does not allow to meet at a work site where a large scale project is taking place, and so, some things...
LA: Right. So, how can you ramp up building trust really quickly?
IJ: Well, I think team building activities, I'm a big advocate for team building activities and it's something I've always... I've been running team-building activities for 20 something years, with different groups of people, so I think the more people get to know about each other, the better. And you can do things as simple as, beginning of meetings, having a quick one-word check-in. How are you feeling right now? Or whatever one word would summarize your day or something that would help you be present in the meeting. Or you can have team-building questions, a kind of ice breaker question, say, "Tell us something you've done this week for the first time? What's your first that you've done this week? Or you can dedicate actual time in each meeting or dedicate full meetings towards team-building activities. And I think for a lot of organizations, a lot of companies, they tend to do team-building in the form of, "Let's go bowling or let's go out for drinks," or those kinds of things, which obviously aren't really practical right now anyway, but I also think there's an element of those, which I think there's a place for them but that leans towards escapism.
IJ: It's like, "Let's get out of the workplace and not think about work for a while." And I actually advocate for activities that have people see how they interact with each other in a way that really does impact their work, and they learn something about themselves, or they learn something about the team that then, with a skillful debrief can then lead into making a real difference in the way they interact with each other. So, those are activities that I absolutely love. And again, I've put some up on my website, which are asynchronous, so they're activities that teams can use even by posting on Slack for example, and doing over time, given that a lot of people are on different schedules and working from home right now, so I wanna make sure those are things that still contribute to building a team that actually practically work as well.
LA: I love this idea of a personal check-in before doing a work meeting, or something that gives you a personal connection. Mark, I wanna bring you into this conversation. I was having this interesting thought when I was thinking about managing remote teams. It's actually not necessarily a new problem. I think of this writer who penned a lot of New Testament, Paul, who traveled across ancient Judea setting up churches, and what he really did for the last part of his life when he was confined to prison was manage remote teams through a series of letters. And his letters, he started out, he always started out by having a personal touch point. Before he was gonna give them a piece of advice or a directive, he had this blessing or benediction or mentioning personal names to start out with. I don't know, Mark, could you draw that allusion or am I reaching too far afield?
MR: Oh, hardly. You've just gladdened my heart, actually, because I actually wrote a good part of my dissertation on this very topic a lot of years ago, and it's so fascinating. So, even when he wasn't in prison, Paul was, he had a team of people working with him. In many cases, they were planting churches in places he had not gone, or he had been in a certain place, left behind certain leaders and needed to continue to coach and encourage them. And so his answer there, which seems so obvious to us, but was utterly un-obvious in his day, was to take one of the newest technologies, i.e. writing, and to turn it into a way of managing people from a distance and supporting and encouraging them from a distance.
So, number one, what did he do? He was very technologically adroit. There's literally, at least when I wrote my dissertation a few years back, there was no antecedent in the Greco-Roman world for somebody using letters in the way that he was, for basically community management. That was a unique creation. So, number one, use technology that's available and use it creatively. But then, as you say, it's not... It's also adapting the technology to your particular purposes. So, it was very common in Greco-Roman letters for a writer to, oh, to briefly acknowledge the gods and send greetings. Paul's letters are very different because the prayer piece is quite a bit longer but also the greetings tend to be quite a bit more extensive and personal, and also in some cases, like in the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul shares out of his own life in a way that was really unprecedented. So, again, what you have is the use of technology, but also really in a unique way for its time, building relationship and nurturing relationship through that technology, in a sense before you get to the business and then at the end, looping back and doing it again. So, I love your analogy, Leah. You're right on.
LA: Mark, do you have a favorite piece of Scripture that Paul wrote, or favorite chunk of his letter that we could take some inspiration from?
MR: Well, let me just mention, again, if you were to read the first chapter of 2 Corinthians, in this chapter, Paul talks about going through a hard time. He talks about despairing of life itself and it's an extraordinarily vulnerable thing. It would be extraordinary in our day. In Paul's day, again, it's just unprecedented. Leaders, writers, philosophers, religious leaders didn't share their hearts in this way, they didn't share their vulnerability in this way. And so, that example is extraordinary in terms of what it says about authenticity, what it says in terms of calling us to a certain level of vulnerability.
Ian mentioned Lencioni's stuff and he's got a lot to say about vulnerability and the importance of vulnerability in leadership. So, this is exactly what Paul was modeling in a way. Again, in our culture, in the day of Oprah and other things, it doesn't feel quite as earth-shaking in its own context. Paul was really using this technology to be exceptionally open in demonstrating what it is to be vulnerable and then also then in really strongly encouraging and affirming in a personal way, the people on the receiving end.
LA: So, that's a good transition to the personal challenges that we're facing in this transition where a lot of people are working from home. Ian could you tell us a little bit about the personal individual challenges of this transition?
IJ: Sure. Well, I think we all have a lot of distractions right now. We all have a lot of things going on that are not usual. This is not a normal work-at-home situation
We all have a lot going on with sharing space with people we wouldn't normally have with us, whether that's kids or a spouse, or relatives, or roommates, or whatever it is. And, obviously, since things have been changing so rapidly over the last few weeks, we each have one eye on the news just to see what's happening in the world and on a more local level. So, there are lots of things calling for our attention which I think add to our level of stress that we carry around with us whether or not we are used to working from home. But I think under more normal circumstances, focus can still be a personal challenge anyway to at less mild degree.
I think structuring your time effectively can be a challenge and most of all, self-care can be something we overlook. I think, as much as it can be exciting initially to be able to work in pajamas without showering or leaving the house first, those kinds of things are actually important for our own vitality and our life. So, an example of that, for over a decade, I walked 2 1/2 miles to and from work when I lived in Cambridge and that time gave me the mental space between the family part of my day and the work part of my day. So it gave barriers, some space between, also gave me time to talk with God and fresh air, and actually have that natural outside connection time, which for me is quite meaningful.
And then we moved out of the city and so, for a year, I was driving in which, because of traffic, meant that I was sitting in the car for three hours a day. So, all of a sudden, I went from walking five miles a day to sitting in the car for three hours a day. And so then when I started working from home, I was totally out of the habit of getting any kind of walking exercise. And my wife, who's far wiser in many ways, suggested that I get back into the habit of "walking to work." So, I made it a habit of the last few months to eat breakfast, then shower and then go for 2 1/2-mile walk in the morning in a loop that brings me back to my home. Then I go to my desk and then start work, and that's my workday, done after I get back that morning exercise that helps my brain.
LA: So, you do a transition from your home time to your work time even though your work time is at your home?
IJ: Absolutely, yeah.
LA: That's very wise.
So, Ian, you've recently transitioned from working in an office to working at home less recently than the rest of us.
I wanted to ask you in terms of your own faith Ian, what particular Scriptures or pieces of the Bible have been really live for you in your transition going from an office to working at home.
IJ: Okay. Yeah, so for me personally... Well, I think I have two answers. So there's one for me personally, and then one that I think is more relevant to the kind of cultural shift that's happening right now, but for me personally Saul's conversion to Paul has been speaking to me a lot recently in different ways. It’s like a whole new world of possibility opens just like for Saul when the scales fall off his eyes. I think this transition has allowed me to breathe deeper and also to reconnect with my kids more. So, I think three hours a day in the car impacted my health actually in ways that I never would have expected. And then when I got home, I was often exhausted and grumpy. I was just in a bad mood with my kids just 'cause I was so tired. now that I'm working from home I'm healthier, I'm spending more time with my family, I'm spending more time outside. And so for me, it really is a whole new world and that's not to say that office life is like Saul persecuting Christians, I don't mean it that way. But the new eyes to see things that are possible has been a wonderful thing for me.
LA: I just wanna sit on the Scripture a little bit. And this is from Acts 9, the story of Paul meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus is Acts 9:3-9 and he's on the road and he's struck down by this light, and it says, "Though his eyes were opened, he could see nothing in that moment." So there's this both at once instance of his eyes being opened, Saul's eyes being opened, but also he's temporarily blinded, he temporarily needs people to help him move around. I don't know, I find that very relevant for the moment that we're in actually where, "Oh, I'm suddenly seeing that we and the world are much more interconnected than I thought we were. I'm suddenly seeing that my actions have repercussions on other people's health and their lives in a way that I didn't see before, and then I'm also suddenly seeing new openings in my own life now that I'm working from home and there are five people in my family and we're all stuck in a house together. I don't mean stuck. We're like joyfully interacting in the house together."
IJ: Joyfully stuck.
LA: There are new ways that my eyes are being open. I don't know, Mark, do you have a reflection on this Scripture?
MR: Well, I mean, Paul is one of the big examples in Scripture of someone whose life was dramatically turned around by his encounter with Christ. But in much of life and in many other ways we find ourselves in somewhat less dramatic but still fairly significant situations of change as we do now. And I think part of the biblical witness that is just so encouraging and especially in these days is the promise again, and again of God's presence with us.
I mean, I think of Psalm 46, it actually sort of set's up things with... The set up is, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." And then it goes on and says, "Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change or the mountain shake in the heart of the sea," and it goes on. There's a sense in which our lives are being changed and shaken up, and one of the things that is so encouraging is to be reminded that God is with us and present in this transition, and God's resources are present, God's guidance is present.
And sometimes that comes just very directly through the Spirit, sometimes through people. So Paul after this extraordinary encounter goes into the city, and a Christian man comes to be with him, to help him ultimately to pray for him so that he might see again. But even when we may have to be more physically alone, now than ever, we are not alone, God is present with us and God continues, even if it's through technology, to give us others who can be there with us.
LA: That's great. That's a fantastic parallel to what we're going through now. Go ahead Ian.
You had said that there was another Scripture that came to mind about what we're going through right now in the world.
IJ: Yeah. So I think culturally, another Scripture that comes to mind for me is Daniel. Daniel being in exile, and being told what he can and cannot do, which a lot of us are feeling that way right now, right? So that could be a scary time. That was a scary time for him and kind of changed everything, but he remains true to God throughout. And for me, I think, yeah, we can all do the same as well. We can stay connected to God no matter what circumstances are going on around us. I think spending a lot of time praying, talking with God and staying, remaining connected with him is hugely important.
LA: And he had a rhythm to his day. This is something that you mentioned at the beginning of our conversation, having a rhythm to your day. You said, in the morning, you go out and take a two and a half mile walk, and you talk with God. And Daniel had a rhythm to his day too, Daniel 6:10 says that, "He got down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise Him just as he had done previously." So, even in his time, in Daniel's time of testing, he said, "No, I'm just gonna keep doing my disciplines. Keep going... Three times a day I get on my knees. I pray and I praise God." Mark, do you have thoughts on the Daniel Scripture?
MR: Well, I love what you've said about rhythm and ritual and indeed, Ian is a great example of this. Most of us have established for our working lives certain rhythms and rituals.. When our rhythms get disrupted, then it can be very disconcerting, and if we're not paying attention to that, it might not seem like such a big deal. It's like Ian, your walking. You would say, "Well, now I don't have to walk 'cause I'm working right here at home." No, actually, your mind and your body and your spirit needed that kind of routine.
IJ: Absolutely, yeah.
MR: So I just think what you're calling us to do is to be attentive to those things. Also I think, in what you were saying, to be gracious with ourselves, recognizing that this is gonna be a transitional time, that God is here to help, that there are other people here to help too. You can ask your friends, "What the heck are you doing with your cat who's gonna be crawling all over you all the time?" You learn things.
LA: So Ian give us some concrete tips. How should workers think about scheduling their time now that they're newly working from home?
IJ: Sure, so before I do that, I wanna echo what Mark just said about grace. I think grace is super important at this time. Grace for other people, and especially grace for ourselves because if we're not having grace for ourselves, we can't rely on other people to have grace for us, but we can show grace for ourselves and show grace for other people. Cause again, this is not a normal work situation for anybody, and I think to pretend that it is, is foolhardy, it's just not... And as much as we go through changes, we hope that life will not continue in this way, exactly in the future. So I think grace is just enormously important right now.
LA: Absolutely, absolutely. So with grace, give us some practical tips.
LA: For those of us who are just newly working from home, what do we do with our day? How do we schedule getting our work done?
IJ: Yeah, so I have a couple of big tips here, I think. The first is to schedule time for interruptions. So what I mean by that is this. So, plan your days on a calendar, ideally a calendar where you can move things around like a digital calendar on Outlook or Google. But we all know that interruptions will happen probably more so now than at the office. So by interruptions I mean, you'll get a phone call you weren't planning on or something urgent needs your attention, or a child will run into the room you're working in, or you'll need a mental break to go get some coffee or fresh air, whatever it is, these things take time, you just don't know when they're going to happen.
IJ: But the fact that they happen is predictable and so you need to actually build that into your day, so block an hour, or maybe two hours, based on your experience at the beginning of your workday for those things and then if they don't happen then, then you can move things forward and start working on the projects that you had on your schedule, for later on in the day and re-arrange your calendar, keep moving the block of interruptions, time for interruptions to later on in the day, until it finally does happen, and then when those interruptions do happen, you won't suddenly be behind on everything because you've planned for this. You may not have known exactly how it was going to look, but you actually knew that there were going to be interruptions at some point, and you have that built into your day. So that would be my first tip.
IJ: And the second is to go back at the end of your day and make sure your calendar accurately accounts and represents your day and the time that you put in during that day. So this is for you, this isn't for anyone else, but if by accurately representing...
LA: This isn't for your boss keeping tabs on you.
IJ: No, no, no, although some managers may ask for it and at least then you have a good accounting, right? But no, this is really for you to acurately represent what happened during each hour because this actually enables you to mentally complete your day, put it in a box, tie a bow on it, and put it away so that you can then step into the non-work part of your day without a commute home. You don't need a mental break, because you're doing that by actually wrapping up your day, putting it away and saying, "Yep, this is exactly what happened today." So it also allows you to make notes of what needs to happen tomorrow and to see if you're making the same use of your time that you thought you were during the day. It can be quite surprising how much time you spend simply writing emails, for example. But hardly anyone actually has hours blocked on their calendar, which are labeled, "Write emails or respond to emails." That's very unusual for somebody to actually have that on the calendar, but we all spend a lot of time responding to those things.
LA: So are you blocking off specific time to check the news, or how can I manage the amount of interruption that just comes from my own anxiety in this process.
IJ: Yeah, so... Well, that's a great question. So I have an email list through buildingbridgesleadership.com, which has weekly tips that anyone can use in their workplace. And this is something I wrote about last week, quite a bit. So for me, I think the thing to do there is to schedule one or maybe two times during the day to actually check the news, but otherwise my biggest thing is to unplug, to disconnect and do whatever it is you're doing. So if you're working, I personally prefer 60-minute sprints and there's a screenwriter call John August who wrote one of my favorite movies Big Fish and he advocates and firmly believes in what he calls write sprints W-R-I-T-E sprints. So turning off the internet for 60 minutes and going all in on writing, and then he's kind of expanded it to, "Well, whatever it is you're doing, just focus on that one thing for 60 minutes, turn off everything else, and at the end of 60 minutes then you can check your phone again, then you can go back and see what's happening."
And so I've taken this up for myself this practice of write sprints and I've joined him when he posts online, myself and various other people will join. And it feels super empowering during that time to shut out the usual distractions. While knowing that others are doing exactly the same thing at the same time, elsewhere in the world.
But it doesn't have to be the WRITE thing. I think my biggest thing here is, if whatever you are spending time doing, spend your time doing that, so if you're spending time with your kids devote that time to being with them as much as you are able. Keep your phone somewhere, that you can check for urgent messages once an hour if need be. But put it on 'do not to disturb' mode if at all possible for you, because whatever it is you're spending time with, whether it's your project, or your kids, they will appreciate your undivided attention. If you're working, get that work done, and try to tune out the rest of the world. Whether we check the news 50 times a day or once or twice a day, the end results will basically be the same.
LA: You mentioned working with children at home. We're really in an unprecedented moment where many of us are working at home with our children at home as well. Typically many children are in school and that's not the case at all. Places where I live, all schools are closed and so we're trying to navigate this new working relationship with other people in the home. Now you've been doing this for a while, tell us how you make it work.
IJ: So I should preface it by saying I'm very fortunate, my wife is my kids' home school teacher. So we're not in exactly the same situation as a lot of other families with two working parents who suddenly have to juggle being with their kids and home schooling as well.
And so kind of stemming from that, my wife and I were thinking about, "What are the things we love to do that can contribute to other families whose kids are at home right now unexpectedly?" And so we decided to set up a one hour a day, daily book group. You know, where we read a book live, and then you know families from around the country, and I think even from around the world today join in, and we talk about it. And when she brought up that idea, my initial instinct was, "Well, I can't do that for an hour every day during the work day." But then you know I quickly realized, "Well, why not?" I mean, I wanna be spending time with my family right now, anyway. And so you know it's like those scales keep falling from my eyes to go back to the Paul example.
MR: I'm struck by something, you... In the last thing you said, which I think is really important. Which was taking a break from sort of focusing internally on your own work, and or your family, or way externally on what's going on in the world. And saying, "So how can we help somebody else?" I just think right now, it's so easy to live in either of the extremes. So I'm in my little...
MR: Space, and I'm really focusing on my health, and my reality. Or then I go... And as you say, I go read the news, and there's this global crisis, and I'm overwhelmed.
MR: I think this is a great opportunity, more than opportunity. It's really a calling to us to think about others and how we can serve them. I have a couple of thoughts about that, specific one is, I have a colleague who just was having a hard time a couple of days ago. I mean, she was doing, as you say, she's reading all these news stories, she's got young kids, she is really upset. And she realizes,"I am not in the right place, I gotta get squared away. So she prayed a bit, and decided she needed to go visit her neighbor who is an older woman. Now, not to go in, and you know...
MR: You know, so there's plenty of social distancing. But just to go to the door and knock, and from a distance say, "How are you? Do you need anything?" And it really changed her experience, her day, because she was thinking about somebody else. The other thing that occurs to me...
MR: That I haven't done yet. I've been thinking about it, but you're encouraging me to do it is with my staff since I'm not gonna be seeing them as much. Just to sort of literally write into my calendar, check-in times.
MR: Not to check-in in on, "Are you doing your work?"
IJ: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MR: But more just, "How you doing? You know, are you doing okay? How is the day going? Just wanna see how you are?"
MR: I could do that. It would be so easy to do that. And I will confess, so easy to forget to do that.
IJ: Absolutely. Yeah, that's something I would highly recommend, actually is checking in with someone each day, with a co-worker... Well, actually, my preference is that people check-in with one co-worker and one non-work friend. And just send them a text, or an email. Or you know actually pick up the phone and call them to see how they're doing.
MR: There's an idea.
IJ: Picking up a phone is something that people don't... [chuckle]
MR: What is that?
IJ: Don't do so much any...
MR: Do those phones...
IJ: Yeah, exactly.
MR: Does my phone do that?
MR: I thought it just texted.
IJ: Yeah. [chuckle] But yeah, trying to maintain strong connections in this time of social distancing, right? It's like we're all separating. And I think you're absolutely right, it's so easy to isolate, get so either wrapped up in ourselves or the complete opposite of that. And look at the world as a whole, and everything that's going on in the world. But we actually all have friends and connections you know maybe are experiencing their own challenges. And I think as Christians, and just as people, wouldn't it be nice if we actually checked in with them and see how they're doing?
LA: That's a beautiful suggestion. Ian, do you have any last tips you know in the last few minutes of our conversation for maintaining... For all of us for maintaining our sanity you know in this time of transition? And in this new time of working from home?
IJ: I think, you know, it's kind of recapping what I've already said, but I think being present, and working on being present as much as you can. And I think you know my kids will be the first to tell you that I'm not perfect in that. I'm pretty far from perfect in that, but I'm working on it. And I would encourage other people to do the same. So if you are with kids, be with kids. Or if you're working, be working on the project you're working on. And I realize that, you know, those interruptions will happen. Kids will come in, but I think there are... You know, if they're getting the attention and the love that you know they are craving for, and they know... They feel secure in a parent's love for them and in God's love for them. Then saying to them, "You know what? I'm in the middle of this project right now. Can I come see you in a few minutes?" That lands very differently than if they are feeling disconnected, and isolated themselves. So I think the more that people can be present with whatever it is they're doing, and the people around them, I think that makes a huge difference.
LA: Mark, What are your last thoughts on this?
MR: Well it's been a great conversation, and it's certainly helpful to me. I'm noting a number of things that I wanna follow up on, so Ian and Leah thanks for both the topic and the wisdom you've brought to bear. You know what I've been thinking a little bit about is... I'm in California, you folks are in Massachusetts. We're in areas that it's a little trickier place to be. But I'm thinking it's quite possible we're gonna be like this for a long time. We could very well be, at least in places where I live, we could be sheltering in place for at least a month, two months. And so I started thinking what is gonna help us really just not go crazy? So let's not go out and rent The Shining, but we don't wanna live The Shining so what can we do?
And I think Ian what you're saying in terms of a structure and schedule and presence and then making time, really really good time for your children or your family, or things you need to do to be healthy. I think that the extent that we are free to do it, to get out of the house at some point, and I know that's gonna be a lot harder for people in an urban setting, but I live in a more suburban neighborhood. I can absolutely walk two or three miles around without ever getting close to any other human being and to be intentional about breaks. Sabbath would be the main theological framework. And actually even thinking about Sabbath differently. 'cause for a lot of folks, maybe it's easier to take a break when during the week, I go to work and do work and then it's the weekend and now this will be Sabbath. Well if this is all sort of interwoven it might be harder. So again, being intentional about what do we need for rest? And what do we need for renewal, so that if we need to go a longer period of time with this very unusual situation, we're able to make it work.
IJ: I think one thing that's been fascinating to me along those lines is when things started to get cancelled. All these events and activities that at one point seemed so important. Two of my children are acting in a Shakespeare play that was supposed to be happening in a couple of weeks and that got cancelled. Things that people have been working for months towards suddenly falling away, and the things that seemed so important then. It would still be lovely to do that of course, but they don't seem as important to me anymore as our health and our safety. My mother-in-law, who lives with us, is immunocompromised and going through cancer treatment, so suddenly our whole world is about keeping her safe and healthy.
And I think bigger picture, I think I thought for a long time that our world is too busy and too full and we have so many things going on and there's so much input going into our brains at any one point. Our brains evolved from a different time where there was not 24 hour news, there was not the cell phones that could pop up messages at any point from anywhere in the world. We were not aware of everything happening throughout the entire world in the same way, we are now, so our brains just cannot handle as much information as we're taking in. We're taking I think... I forget what the figure is, but it's millions of pieces of information at any one point. And I think this is a chance as much as this is an unwelcome chance, but it is a chance nonetheless to dial down and to shed some of your load and to take a step back and assess what are the things that are really important to me right now and who are the people that I care about and what are the things that I really wanna be doing in my life and how can I still do those things in a way that I think when life was just busier, and everything was open for business, it was hard to be able to take that mental break and a step back. And I think now we have an opportunity.
LA: Ian thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today and sharing your experience with us.
MR: Yes thanks.
IJ: Thank you for having me. Thank you so much.